The new Hays County Records manager should prevent the destruction of valuable documents to give residents proper access to public records.
According to an Oct. 2 University Star article, Hays County expanded county law librarian Melody Barron’s duties to include part-time records management. Barron will take over this role after an internal assessment found $100,000 was spent in unnecessary scans and the destroying of records that were supposed to be permanent.
Mark Kennedy, special counsel to the court, said none of those expenses were taken from the county budget. Although the county’s finances did not suffer as a result, the destruction of these documents is still detrimental to residents.
The permanent records that were destroyed could have been extremely valuable for journalists or any other professionals who utilize public documents. The county records are open for reference, and residents should have great concern about protecting them.
It is important to note that these records belong to the residents, not the individual departments of the county. Their destruction means taxpayers can no longer view information they are granted access to by law.
According to the same article, there has not been a records manager in Hays County since about 1995. Each department was left to follow state-mandated schedules to determine which documents could or could not be destroyed.
During the past 17 years, documents across county departments were unregulated, and the need for a records manager should have been more apparent to officials. There is no way to know the extent of the documents that were destroyed or duplicated unnecessarily.
The departments that destroyed documents may have been ignorant to the rules or simply disregarded the mandates handed down to them. Those are dangerous attitudes to have in county government departments. Duplication could be just as bad as destruction. An overflow of superfluous documents floating around departments where they are not needed is a waste of taxpayer money.
Rules in place should be followed so this situation will not be an issue in the future. The county made the right decision by hiring someone to organize and assess the documents.
Kennedy said legal actions are not likely to come to the departments because of their lack of education or training. The editorial board believes consequences should come to those departments, such as required records retention training or education on the systems in place.
Barron may have difficulty assessing the documents that survived the lack of organization, but so far her hiring has brought a much-needed formality and organization to records kept in the county.